Only Corbyn can restore people’s trust in politics

Jeremy Corbyn was proven right: those supporting him are right again, writes Ken Livingstone.

THE vote to leave the European Union represented many things. But it is clear that one of the issues that motivated voters was a profound distrust of politicians.

Nobody on the left believed that Tory Brexit leaders would see £350 million per week channelled to the NHS, but even a majority of Conservative voters refused to buy whatever David Cameron was trying to sell.

Faced with challenging times, people need representatives that they can trust.

Trust in their judgement. Trust to stand firm on their promises and principles. And trust to tell the truth. For that reason, the publication of the long-awaited Chilcot inquiry report — into British involvement in the Iraq war — was much more than an exercise in recent history.

As the Labour Party enters its leadership election this summer, it has acted as a timely reminder of where we are and where we need to go from here.

Few will need reminding that in 2003, the then Labour Party leader and prime minister, Tony Blair, advocated the invasion with the claim that Iraq possessed nuclear, biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), capable of being deployed within 45 minutes. If true, it was a frightening prospect.

Many believed that Blair had already taken his decision — entering into a war pact with US president George W Bush, up to a year before.

A massive anti-war movement — which I was honoured to fully back as the then mayor of London — refused to accept the case for war but, inside Westminster, enormous pressure was applied to wavering MPs.

The build-up to the war in Iraq was one of those rare but truly historic occasions when all eyes are focused on the affairs of state.

The prospect of war was discussed and debated in workplaces, schools and colleges, at bus stops and on trains, in pubs, hairdressers and cafes, in living rooms and at kitchen tables.

People do not soon forget moments such as these.

Despite public opposition, Blair got the parliamentary votes that he required including majority backing from the Parliamentary Labour Party. The war on Iraq proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Millions were displaced, injured, lost loved ones or had their lives damaged in the chaos. The threat of terrorism increased, contributing to the rise of the vile, reactionary group that now calls itself the Islamic State. The claims that were made to win support for the war were proven to be false, vindicating the anti-war campaign.

Late last year, one of the tribunes of that anti-war movement, Jeremy Corbyn, was elected leader of the Labour Party.

On February 15 2003, Corbyn told the largest ever demonstration in British history that war would unleash a “spiral of conflict, of misery, of hate, of desperation, that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression and the misery of future generations.”

As the Chilcot report has underlined, he had been proven right, and people had not forgotten.

The democratic decision of Labour Party members last summer to elect an anti-war and anti-austerity leader has never been accepted by many in the Parliamentary Labour Party, who are again seeking to displace Jeremy Corbyn this summer.

Some of those opposing Jeremy Corbyn have much narrower horizons than even Tony Blair, but there is a strange symmetry with the situation that we face today.

Following the referendum, a small group of what John Prescott has dubbed “Bitterite” MPs triggered their long-primed plans for a coup.

Their hope was that in the chaos that would follow, they could pressure enough panicked colleagues to fall behind their lead and quickly ensure the outcome that they desired.

Luckily they did not succeed in their anti-democratic “chicken coup.”

The launch of the Chilcot report and the debate that followed saw Jeremy Corbyn clearly again being the leader and spokesperson of the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the Labour movement.

Anti-war and progressive activists throughout the country who have stood firm in defence of the ideas that carried Jeremy to the leadership last summer were vindicated.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke for Labour members across Britain when he apologised on behalf of the party for its involvement in the rush to war.

The contrast with the self-justifications of his leading critics was clear for all to see.

Those seeking to oust Corbyn argue that Labour needs a charismatic leader better able to spin, flatter and cajole — a leader more along the lines of Tony Blair.

They have tried to convince those who instinctively support a democratic Labour Party that replacing Jeremy Corbyn is the only hope of defeating the Tories at the next election.

But to return to government, Labour needs a winning coalition that unites the young, multiethnic, urban Britain that opted for Remain, and the post-industrial and struggling working-class communities, many of whom voted Leave.

That means opposing disastrous wars, standing up to racism and crucially, an unambiguous opposition to austerity. Above all, it means rebuilding and winning back trust.

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged as part of his leadership campaign to put “peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy,” arguing that “we will put conflict resolution and human rights at the heart of foreign policy, commit to working through the United Nations, end support for aggressive wars of intervention and back effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis.”

He adds that “British foreign policy has long failed to be either truly independent or internationally co-operative, making the country less safe and reducing our diplomatic and moral authority,” and concluded that “We will build human rights and social justice into trade policy, honour our international treaty obligations on nuclear disarmament and encourage others to do the same.

This pledge can help restore faith in our politics and provide a truly ethical framework for our foreign policy that will be both popular on the doorstep and make Britain safer and more respected in the world.

The “Bitterite” plotters chose the days immediately following the European referendum result to unfold their attempted coup, putting their own narrow interests ahead of those of the labour movement and millions of Britons.

If they were to succeed in ousting Jeremy, their actions would also ensure that many people would further lose trust in politicians.

Labour should not repeat the mistakes of the recent past. A return to the kinds of formulae and falsehoods that led the party into the disastrous Iraq war will not bring electoral victory.

Jeremy Corbyn was proven right about Iraq and he, and the wider Labour movement that he is part of, will be proven right again.

First published in the Morning Star